By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
We’re on the road! The season has begun, teams are moving this place and that and – for the Atlantic and New England Divisions, they’ll all be moving towards Marlborough starting on Friday. The Boston Junior Bruins Shootout will see the season debuts of the Twin City Thunder and Utica Jr. Comets, the latter newly moved to the New England Division for this year. All other teams in the league have either one or two games under their belt, including all of the brand new NCDC Mountain Division. Everything they do will be team firsts for a little while, and with any brand new teams or division, a new division record could be set just about every weekend or every game.
As with past years, the NCDC This Week will delve into the stats of what’s happened so far, and as we go into future weeks in this spot, we’ll have access to even more detailed stats and deeper analytics. One change from past seasons is we’re moving the “Up Next” portion of the NCDC This Week generally to Thursdays or Fridays in a separate weekly article called “NCDC: The Road Ahead.”
In this spot – as in future editions of NCDC This Week – we will take a look at all teams that have finished better than .500 for that week’s action.
South Shore Kings Take Opening Pair Against Northern Cyclones
The very first game on the 2022-23 NCDC calendar, the first season as an 18-team league, was a 5-1 victory against the host Northern Cyclones for the South Shore Kings, which concluded a few hours before any other NCDC game got started for this year. The Kings were able to repeat the same score the very next day on their home ice.
This ended up being the first time the Kings have ever started their season with two straight wins by the same score. They came close in the NCDC’s infancy, winning 4-2 and 4-3 against the Rockets Hockey Club in 2017. Those two games marked the last time the Kings started out 2-0 as well.
The last time the Kings won two straight games by the same score was Oct. 22 and 28, 2021, won by matching 2-1 scores – also against the Northern Cyclones. The last two seasons, the Cyclones and Kings have come out even, 3-3-0-0 apiece.
The Friday afternoon 1 p.m. game became the third Game 1 of an entire NCDC season since 2020 to feature the South Shore Kings. This decade, they’ve opened 2020-21 (vs. the Junior Bruins), 2021-22 (vs. the Islanders Hockey Club) and 2022-23 (vs. the Cyclones). A Boston Junior Bruins vs. Boston Advantage game started an hour prior to their 2022-23 game, putting them into Game 2 overall last year.
- Veteran defenseman Salvatore Cerrato finished his opening weekend in a tie with the league’s leading scorers, and sits with a 1-5-6 line in two games. He is the league’s current assists leader out of the gate. He began the year with a four-assist game on Sept. 22. That doubled his season-high of 2022-23, as he registered two assists twice on the year.
- Goalies Tucker Inabinet and Ryan Keyes both share the lead with two others in goals against average (1.00).
Pueblo Bulls Earn Sweep Over Utah Outliers
Welcome to the NCDC, Bulls! They started out on the right foot and have the most goals scored for a 2-0 team so far, with 12. They gave up just five in their pair of victories. They registered 5-2 and 7-3 victories on the back-to-back nights.
On the first night, the Bulls had to battle back from their first deficit of their season, as Utah scored to open. The Bulls then scored three unanswered goals, which would be equaled and bettered in Game 2 by scoring five in a row before Utah got their first.
- Nate Farrell scored the historic first Bulls NCDC goal for the organization, and stands with a 1-1-2 line early on. His goal at 5:24 of the first erased the Bulls’ only deficit of the early season so far.
- Nate Hinze and Jack Hanson, both Minnesotans, currently share the team scoring lead at an identical 1-3-4 in two games.
- Ryan Mitchell and Nikita Volski both earned goaltending wins, and so the Bulls match the Kings as the only team to have multiple goalies with wins so far.
Connecticut Jr. Rangers Win Opening Home-and-Home Against Mercer
The Connecticut Jr. Rangers, giving the Jr. Rangers a 2-0 opening record for the second straight year. Last year, they started out 2-0 before falling in the third of a three-game series to Utica. Connecticut last opened the season with a home-and-home series in 2021-22, splitting their opening weekend against the P.A.L. Jr. Islanders.
So far, the Bulls, Jr. Rangers, Junior Bruins and Kings all share one thing in common – all three trailed 1-0 in their season-opening wins before ultimately going 2-0.
Mercer’s Andrew LaHaie scored the first goal of Game 1 and it wasn’t until 6:24 of the second before Connecticut could get the equalizer from Colin Richard. Mercer carried a 2-1 lead into the third period before Andrew Bellehumeur and Jextinian Sheffield scored the final two to get them over the top in the 3-2 opening victory. It was the third career game-winner for third-year veteran Sheffield.
A four-goal second period helped lead the Jr. Rangers to a 7-2 victory in Game 2, the Rangers’ best offensive period since scoring five in the second of a 7-2 victory against Utica on Feb. 11, 2023.
- First-year ‘04 Antoine Tourigny and second-year Jr. Ranger Jack Houser share the scoring lead at five points apiece, with lines of 2-3-5 and 1-4-5 respectively.
- Another first-year Jr. Ranger Carl Johan Salle, has three points to rank in a five-way tie for second among defensemen in scoring.
- New goalie Wilmer Brundin (‘04) got both starts and faced a lot of action, stopping a league-leading 106 out of 110 shots. His .964 save percentage is third in the league, currently.
Rockets Hockey Club Take First Set Of Interstate Rivalry Games Against Hitmen
The Rockets Hockey Club were victorious in back-to-back games against the Hitmen for a 2-0 start, thanks to wins of 3-0 and 4-3 in the home-and-home set. The Rockets had also won their last regular season game of 2022-23 on March 4, marking the first time in their NCDC history that they’d beaten the Hitmen three times in a season.
Together with this past weekend’s wins, it also marks the first time the Rockets have won three straight regular season games against their I-287 rivals.
Unlike the four other 2-0 teams in the league, the Rockets never trailed in their season opener. In fact, they shut out the Hitmen by a 3-0 score. It was the first Rockets shutout in their NCDC history against the Hitmen. It also marked the first time since 2020-21 that a team opened their season with a shutout win – that season, the former Boston Advantage and Hitmen started their season with blankings.
- Chace Hale made 40 saves in the season-opening victory to register the NCDC’s first (and so far only) shutout. In both of Hale’s career shutouts, he has made 40 or more saves, stopping all 48 he faced on Nov. 5, 2022, against Connecticut.
- Third-year Rocket veteran Jonas Dobnig has goals in two straight games to kick off the season, and for the first time in his career.
- Despite the two losses, Hitmen forward Darik Feasey became the first NCDC player to record a hat trick this season, posting all of his team’s offense in the Hitmen’s 4-3 defeat on Saturday.
Boston Junior Bruins Take Two In Overtime Against Rival Islanders Hockey Club
The Junior Bruins are already the Cardiac Kids of the 2022-23 NCDC season, having won back-to-back games in overtime to kick off the 2023-24 season. Their first was a late charge back after being down 1-0 even late in the third period, while the second game saw a furious comeback attempt by the rival Islanders Hockey Club that saw a 3-0 Junior Bruins lead vanish to become a 3-3 tie at the end of regulation.
In the end, Easton Andrews scored the first OT goal of the NCDC season, and Shane Baker (with three goals already on the season) scored the second for a 2-0 record.
- It marked the first time since Feb. 14 and 21, 2020, that the Junior Bruins won two straight regular season games in overtime. It also marks their first time ever opening with two overtime games.
- Shane Baker scored the tying goal with one second remaining in regulation on Saturday, before scoring two more on Sunday. It marked the first time he scored three goals in two straight games since Sept. 24-25, 2022, against Twin City. He has six career game-winning goals, but Sunday’s OT marker was his first of that brand.
- Andrews’ OT goal was the first by a Junior Bruins defenseman since current teammate Colin Wenrich scored to beat the former Boston Advantage on Jan. 14, 2023. Will Gilson holds the career lead for OT goals by a Junior Bruins defenseman with three, all scored in 2019-20.
- Garrett Simpson became the fourth Junior Bruins goaltender to earn an overtime win in their first career start. The others have been Connor McDonough (Oct. 7, 2022), Ryan Wilson (Jan. 7, 2021) and the great Yaniv Perets (Oct. 12, 2017), who helped win the NCAA National Championship for Quinnipiac.
Ogden Mustangs Take Three Points From Win, Overtime Loss Against Provo, Idaho Falls
The Mustangs pulled into an early second place spot behind Pueblo to kick off the NCDC Mountain Division era. They started out not quite where they wanted to, but still got a point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Provo Predators. They rebounded nicely to be the team coming back for the win on Saturday, nullifying an Idaho Falls 2-0 lead going into the third with three unanswered regulation goals. Payton Struck struck the final blow with 4:12 remaining in regulation for the Mustangs’ first victory.
- The South Shore Kings and Ogden Mustangs are the first two teams this year to come into the third period scoreless and win a game with three unanswered third period goals (or more, i.e., five for the Kings).
- Struck, an ‘05 who joined alongside fellow former Minnesota Lakers teammate Carson Melquist, scored the Mustangs’ first NCDC goal as well. With three points, he currently leads the Mustangs offensively.
- Not far behind with two points apiece, are former USPHL Premier All-Stars Daniel Ellingson – who scored 103 points last year for the Minnesota Squatch – and former Premier Mustangs player Teddie Hember.
- Cameron Hollands stopped 26/28 in net to register the historic first Mustangs NCDC goaltender win.
P.A.L. Jr. Islanders Finishes With Three-Point Weekend With Win, Shootout Loss vs. Knights
The defending Dineen Cup Champions looked the part when they took the ice for their Friday opener against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights on Friday. They won 9-2, but one day later found themselves down 3-1 midway through the second. They rebounded to secure at least a point, but the Knights outscored them 2-0 in the shootout for the redemption victory.
- The Friday night win marked the Jr. Islanders’ first win in a season-opener since Sept. 15, 2018, when they defeated the South Shore Kings – their 2023 Dineen Cup Final opponents – in a 5-4 game.
- Their seven-goal victory saw their largest margin of victory since winning an 8-0 game on Dec. 11, 2022, also against the Knights.
- They scored nine goals in a regular season game for the first time since doing it in back-to-back contests at Hub City Tampa in 2021 on Feb. 5 (9-2 vs. Islanders Hockey Club) and Feb. 6 (9-1 vs. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs).
- Playing in only one shootout game so far is foreign territory recently for the Jr. Islanders, who kicked off their championship 2022-23 season with three straight shootouts, going 1-2 in the 1v1 sessions.
- Recently appointed Captain Ty Broad showed his on-ice leadership by jumping out to the league’s scoring lead right off the bat with six points, tied with fellow returning champion Carter Hanrahan and South Shore Kings defenseman Sal Cerrato, another veteran of the Dineen Cup Finals last spring.
- Additionally, two Jr. Islanders find themselves in a tie for defenseman scoring, as both Marshall Beaker and Coleson Hanrahan started out with three points apiece.
- Goaltender Nick Bevilacqua, another NCDC veteran, started out 1-0-0-1 and has seen 84 shots, second most in the league so far behind Connecticut’s Wilmer Brundin. Bevilacqua, who went 21-8-3-1 last year, won his season-opener for the second straight year.
Provo Predators Kick Off With Comeback Overtime Win In Sole Game So Far
The Predators eased into their NCDC existence with a single-game opening weekend, going up against their regional rivals from the Salt Lake region, the Ogden Mustangs. As aforementioned, they eked out a 2-1 overtime victory to stand at 1-0 overall, so no matter what happens the rest of the way, they and the Bulls can always say they were the first two undefeated Mountain Division teams after a weekend’s conclusion.
- The Predators skated through 37:13 of their opener being down by 1-0 before Ekam Dhaliwal scored the Preds’ historic first NCDC goal at the 17:03 mark of the third period, just after a power play had expired. The Predators’ Mathieu Fournier scored the overtime goal just 11 seconds into the extra session. It was the first opening minute OT goal since the former Boston Advantage beat the Utica Jr. Comets, 6-5, at the 50-second mark on Oct. 30, 2022.